Monday, December 13, 2004

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 10: the handwriting on the wall

Friday 9:45 pm

The chairs in the dining hall are in a big circle. We are supposed to have a speaker, a rabbi who was the first person to go down into the caves of me’arat hamachpela (where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob, and Leah are buried). Miriam is excited about this. I am curious, but also tired (on many levels) and I know that, being so tired, I may not be able to focus enough to understand the Hebrew. But Miriam persuades me to stay, promising to translate. A 40-ish man with red hair and beard approaches us: He’s a very very new immigrant from Miami and hardly speaks any Hebrew. He heard us speaking in English. Could Miriam translate for him as well? But of course!

We sit down, and shortly one of the older ladies gets up to start the program. I’d noticed her on the bus from Jerusalem. She seems to be in her 50’s, and has a very severe facial expression, severe glasses, and a severe hairbun. She explains that we are now going to play some get-to-know you games. [“What happened to the rabbi?” Miriam wonders aloud. But we never find out.]

Hairbun distributes little slips of paper to everyone. I look at mine and see that it says “rather at what is inside it.” Thanks to my ulpan program, I recognize this as the second half of the Israeli version of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” the idiomatic

Don’t look at the container, rather at what is inside.

Aha! Each person has half of an idiom on their paper! We will have to get up and mingle, and find the person with the other half! I’ve done this kind of thing before. It’s not fabulous for getting to know people, but it does provide an excuse to get up and move around, talk to someone who catches your eye- however briefly- and, for me, to learn new Hebrew idioms. OK, I’ll go along. I’m game.

But Hairbun does not tell us to get up and mingle. Instead, she calls out the beginning of each idiom, has us yell out the second part, and then the two people with that idiom come up to give in their slips of paper. Excuse me? How is this a mingling game?

People start to have side conversations, since once you’ve given in your paper slips, there’s not much to do. Hairbun is getting annoyed that people are not paying attention. And she’s right, you know, because the last thing you want at a singles shabbaton is for people to be talking to each other.

Then, Avi brings out two boxes of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, the traditional chanukah food in Israel) and puts them on a table in the middle of the circle. I comment to Miriam that it’s little touches like this that indicate a lack of event-planning experience. You don’t put out two boxes of doughnuts into the middle of a group of Jews and expect them to pay attention to the program. But I digress.

Hairbun, it turns out, is a graphologist, and had come to the Shabbaton as a speaker for Shabbat afternoon. Since the Me’arat Hamachpela speaker didn’t work out, she would speak tonight instead. So, she starts telling us about her amazing talent at analyzing handwriting. Meanwhile, people are still having little side conversations, and Miriam is behind me, translating for Levi (and having a side conversation). Happily, I'm able to understand the gist of the speech without any help.

Hairbun tells people to shush, and then asks Miriam to be quiet. I say “She’s translating.” Hairbun responds by rolling her eyes and saying “Don’t translate now. You can translate later.”

Well, humph. It’s true that I don’t need a translation, but I also do not need to sit here and listen to Control Freak Fascist Lady tell us about the secrets behind the truncated “kuf” and “nun.”

So I leave for the lobby . . . .

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